The Definition of Traumatic Brain InjuryA traumatic brain injury is a type of acquired brain injury, meaning that it is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. This type of injury is generally caused by a traumatic external force, such as a sudden blow or jolt to the head or body. TBIs can be either open, meaning an object has penetrated the protective covering of the skull, or closed, meaning damage is contained within the brain itself.
Common TBI CausesSome of the most common causes of TBI include:
- Falls, which account for slightly more than half of all TBI-related emergency department visits. Falls pose a particular risk for causing TBIs in elderly individuals and small children, many of whom are unsteady on their feet.
- Traffic and transportation-related accidents, including crashes involving cars, trucks, motorcycles, trains, buses, rideshares, watercraft, aircraft, pedestrians, or bicycles. Accounting for 20 percent of all TBI-related emergency department visits, these accidents are the second-leading cause of TBI and the leading cause of TBI hospitalizations for individuals between the ages of 15-44.
- Violence, including gunshot wounds, assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. Shaken baby syndrome, also known as Abusive Head Trauma, is one example of a type of TBI caused by violence.
- Sports and recreational activities, especially playing contact sports such as football or hockey, or engaging in high-risk recreational activities such as diving or skiing, are also a major cause of TBI.
- Combat and training-related incidents undertaken by military personnel also constitute common causes of TBI, such as when soldiers suffer exposure to explosive blasts, penetrating wounds caused by shrapnel or debris, and transportation accidents.
Degrees of TBI SeverityDoctors categories traumatic brain injuries by the degree of severity, ranking them as "mild," moderate, or severe. The rankings reflect a doctor's initial assessment of an injury based on objective factors like the duration of a victim's loss of consciousness or amnesia immediately after the incident, and the presence of symptoms like confusion or dizziness immediately after the incident. This helps doctors plan an initial course of treatment for a TBI. TBI victims sometimes mistake this initial category as a prediction of their symptoms or the difficulty of their recovery. In fact, any TBI can cause major problems for a victim. Even a so-called “mild” TBI, more commonly referred to as a concussion, can inflict severe and lasting symptoms that disrupt every aspect of a victim's life. In other words, no matter what categorization a doctor gives a TBI, it represents a serious injury.
Diversity of TBI Locations and EffectsThe brain's importance to the body cannot be understated. It sends messages through the spinal cord that control all of the body's voluntary and involuntary responses. Despite its critical importance to human life, the brain has a limited ability to recover and repair itself, meaning that many of the deficits acquired through a TBI could last permanently. TBIs inflict a wide and diverse range of symptoms, determined at least in part by the part of the brain affected by the injury. The brain is divided into several segments, known as lobes, each controlling a specific bodily function. Damage to different lobes, and even different parts of the same lobe, can cause varying symptoms. For instance:
- The frontal lobe controls executive functions such as attention, organization, impulse control, and the ability to speak. Damage to this part of the brain may cause difficulties with communication and the ability to control impulses, behavior, and emotions.
- The temporal lobe controls functions including memory and the ability to understand spoken language. An injury to this part of the brain can cause difficulties with those functions.
- The parietal lobe manages functions such as depth perception, the sense of touch, and the identification of sizes, shapes, and colors. Injuries to this part of the brain affect the body's five primary senses, including touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing.
- The occipital lobe plays a significant role in vision. Victims of injuries to this part of the brain often experience blindness or the inability to perceive the size and shape of objects.
- The cerebellum controls balance, movement, and skilled motor activity. An injury to this part of the brain can impair a victim's ability to stand, walk, or hold and manipulate objects, for example.
- The brainstem is responsible for the body's involuntary responses, such as breathing, consciousness, and heart rate. Damage to the brain stem is often deadly, as the body cannot survive independently without these responses.
- Left brain injuries can result in difficulties understanding language and speaking, impaired logic, and loss of control of the right side of the body. The right side of the brain is responsible not only for the left side of the body, but also for traits such as creativity, imagination, empathy, and figurative thinking.
- Right brain injuries often involve deficits to the person's creativity, altered music appreciation, visual memory deficits, and lack of control over the left side of the body.
Common Complications Resulting from TBIIn addition to impaired bodily functions, TBI also features a high risk of serious health complications, some of them life-threatening. Those complications include:
- Altered consciousness caused by a TBI can include coma, which is a period of unconsciousness lasting more than 24 hours; vegetative state, which involves a person who is unaware of his or her surroundings but may open his or her eyes, have a reflexive response, and move; and minimally conscious state, which is often a transition state between a coma and awareness.
- Seizures are common after a TBI. Early Traumatic brain injury treatment often includes giving a victim anti-seizure medication to prevent this serious medical condition from occurring. For some people, seizures can be chronic and can occur months or even years after the initial injury took place. This is known as post-traumatic epilepsy.
- Hydrocephalus involves a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain following injury. This fluid buildup can lead to increased brain pressure and result in further damage to brain tissue. Hydrocephalus is often treated with the surgical placement of a shunt to drain the fluid away from the brain and into the body where it can be eliminated.
- Infections often occur after an open head injury in which bacteria enter the meninges, the protective tissue that covers the brain. However, infections can occur in other parts of the injured person's body and result in a lack of consciousness and mobility. Such infections are frequently located in parts of the body such as the urinary tract. The first sign of an infection in a brain injured person is generally a fever, though fevers can have other causes as well including damage to the part of the brain that controls temperature regulation.
- Damage to blood vessels that supply blood to the brain can also cause injury and increase the risk of life-threatening conditions such as a stroke or a blood clot in the brain.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious but relatively common condition that occurs after a victim suffers a TBI, particularly if the injury requires surgical treatment and periods of immobility. This condition involves blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. In some cases, a piece of this clot can break free and travel through the bloodstream to the lung, creating a potentially fatal condition known as a pulmonary embolus.
- A higher risk of developing a degenerative brain disease, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
The Widespread Impacts of TBIMore than 1.5 million Americans suffer a TBI each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those people, around 50,000 will die. 230,000 will be hospitalized and survive. Up to 90,000 people will face long-term disability as a result. Estimates put the lifetime cost of medical treatment for a brain injury at between $85,000 and $3 million, a wide range that reflects the diversity of TBI injuries and symptoms. The cost of treating a TBI, however, reflects only part of the overall cost to victims and their families. The permanent deficits and impairments commonly caused by TBIs can prevent a victim from working or going to school, for example, severely limiting the victim's income and future earning potential. In fact, more than 5 million people in the U.S. currently live with lifelong disabilities caused by TBIs, and the unemployment rate for adults with a TBI is far above the national average. More than half of the nation's homeless population suffer from traumatic brain injuries. Indeed, TBIs affect every part of a victims life, including:
- At work: Victims who can return to work often need accommodations for their injury, such as shortened workdays, fewer workdays, longer breaks, and a lighter workload.
- At school: Contrary to popular belief, children's brains are not necessarily better able to handle or recover from a TBI. Rather, in many cases, the true picture of the deficits a child suffers from a TBI does not emerge until the child's brain has developed and the societal expectations placed on the child are higher. Like adults returning to the workplace, children attending school with a TBI often need accommodations, such as having an occupational therapist assist them with organization and management of behaviors and impulse control; fewer school days; shorter school days; longer breaks; and testing and instructional accommodations.
- At home: TBIs have a profound impact on the victim and victim's family alike. Children may find themselves serving as caretakers for brain-injured parents. Spouses may encounter a loss of physical intimacy due to hormonal changes following the injury. It is not unusual for family members of a brain-injured person to express that they no longer feel like anyone understands what they go through in life.
- In society: Individuals suffering from the long-term effects of a TBI often struggle to enjoy activities they formerly looked forward to as a result of physical limitations placed on them by the injury. Additionally, impulse control and other common issues can interfere with a TBI victim's involvement in social activities, leading to isolation, depression, substance abuse, and (in severe cases) suicidality.
Experienced Brain Injury Lawyers Can HelpIf you or your loved one suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of someone else's careless or reckless actions, then you may have the right to pursue legal action to secure compensation for the harm and difficulty you have endured. To learn more about your legal rights and options in the wake of a TBI upending your life, contact an experienced brain injury lawyer who understands the legal, medical, and psychological challenges of living with and managing the effects of a TBI. A consultation is free-of-charge, completely confidential, and comes with no obligation on your part to take further action. to contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA either call our office at (727) 451-6900 or fill out a contact form online.
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